December 10th is a government holiday in Thailand, marking the date in 1932 on which King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) signed the Kingdom of Siam’s first “permanent” constitution, following a bloodless coup on 24 June 1932 and marking the transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy. Since then, there have been nineteen constitutions (three in the decade since I’ve lived here). So much for permanency!
The great number of charters and constitutions since 1932 is indicative of the degree of political instability currently in Thailand. The majority of charters and constitutions were the direct or indirect result of military coups. Charters and constitutions for much of Thai history can be thought of not as instruments of the people to control the government but as instruments by which a government controls its people.
All of Thailand’s charters and constitutions have allowed a constitutional monarchy. Widely varying, however, have been the strength of the legislature, the percentage of legislators appointed versus elected, the power of the monarch, and the strength of the executive. These parameters have been influenced by the political and military strength of the regime and the degree of support from the king and the palace. For instance, the 1959 Charter gave Sarit Dhanarajata absolute power over the executive and the legislature, which reflected the overwhelming strength with which he executed a coup over Plaek Pibulsonggram as well as his strong support from the palace.
The stamp shown above was issued as part of a set of five (Scott #233-237) released in 1939 to mark the seventh anniversary of the constitution (also called Independence Day in Thailand). It portrays Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in Bangkok which served as the headquarters for the People’s Party during the 1932 Revolution and as Parliament House until 1974. Construction had been commissioned by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1906 but wasn’t completed until 1915. This building within Dusit Palace now serves as a museum, although some state functions are still held there.
To the right is a stamp issued in 2010 to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the formation of the Office of the Election Commission, whose responsibilities include encouraging the general public’s participation in politics, urging the general public to make use of the their right to vote with honesty, transparency and justice, as well as creating trust in the public. The background features two golden offering bowls above a turret. A representation of the 1932 constitution rests on top; this is the center portion of the Democracy Monument in Bangkok